Former World Heavyweight Champion Praises Rising Talent Junto Nakatani | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Former World Heavyweight Champion Praises Rising Talent Junto Nakatani

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This time, Nakatani’s LA camp was held for a month, starting on January 4

“Wow, that’s a stunning knockout! The timing, the angle, it’s perfect. Seriously impressive. Naoya Inoue is amazing too, but it feels like another Japanese star has emerged,” commented the spectator in awe.

In the WBO super flyweight title bout held in Las Vegas on May 20, 2023, Junto Nakatani (26) landed a counter left hook to knock down Andrew Moloney. Watching the scene unfold, former world heavyweight champion Tim Witherspoon (66) commented.


“That was a beautiful shot. Junto Nakatani, huh. It’s only natural for him to win the KO of the Year. He had knocked down Moloney in the 2nd and 11th rounds, so honestly, he could have achieved the two-division title with just boxing skill in the final round. But going for the knockdown just 21 seconds before the end of the fight, that’s commendable. He’s mentally strong too. This type of fighter will surely gain popularity in America as well.”

Tim was watching a video of Junto Nakatani taking on WBC bantamweight champion Alexandro Santiago for a three-weight championship at the Ryogoku Kokugikan on March 24.

“Junto has a long reach and is tall for this weight class. He’s making good use of his physical advantages. I admire his smartness in not giving away his distance. His jab is sharp, and he has good extension in his straight punches. His uppercuts and hooks are also razor-sharp.

However, one thing that slightly concerns me is that his hooks tend to have a larger trajectory in close quarters. If he leaves himself open, opponents could target that. For example, if he were to fight Naoya Inoue, Inoue would definitely exploit that vulnerability.”

The sparring session for the WBC bantamweight title fight lasted 146 rounds.

Without being asked, Tim, who won the world heavyweight title twice (WBC in 1984 / WBA in 1986), began to talk about Naoya Inoue vs. Junto Nakatani.

“One weight class apart, a matchup between the two would be a mega-fight in Japan. Naoya is currently at his peak, while Junto is still improving. It would be interesting if it happened in about a year and a half. Naoya, the unified super bantamweight champion, has a record of 26 wins, all by KO, while Junto, who is soon to hold the WBC bantamweight belt, also has 26 wins, 19 by KO. Comparing them by the numbers is intriguing.

Boxers tend to experience wear and tear after crossing 30 fights. Both of them will have to contend with that in the future. However, at this point, Naoya has the edge in every aspect. The biggest difference might be in explosiveness.”

I conveyed that Nakatani also acknowledged the difference, stating, “I am happy to have a world champion of the highest caliber leading the way for me.”

“The honest player undoubtedly grows. My goal was to spar with the likes of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. However, Ali was 16 years older than me, and Frazier was even 14 years my senior, so realistically, a match wasn’t feasible. I ended up sparring with Ali when he decided to come back after retirement. At 38, Ali couldn’t move like he used to. During sparring, I didn’t hit him with 100% power, as I didn’t want to cause him any damage. I did land some shots to the body, though.

Naoya and Junto are living in the same era. There’s a possibility of them facing each other. In 2023, they were awarded Fighter of the Year and Best KO, respectively. Japanese promoters must see this as the ultimate money-making card.”

Rudy Hernandez (left), who has mentored him since he was 15.

Tim also glanced at the footage of Junto Nakatani, who knocked out Andrew Moloney in the final round and then, four months later, won a decision victory in his first WBO super flyweight title defense against Arghy Cortes, despite knocking him down three times.

“I saw that Junto was much sharper in the fight against Moloney. Could this be due to weight loss?”

“I’ve been following the sport closely, and your performance caught my attention. You’ve got potential, kid,” Tim replied.

“How many years do you think I’ve been living in the boxing world? Watching every punch, every step, that’s not the real Junto. If he fought like he did against Moroni, he would have knocked him out. Did he decide to move up to bantamweight after this fight? That’s the right move. Once he’s at 118 pounds, he’ll fight with even more vigor.”

His brother Tatsuto (left), two years younger than him, supports him as his manager.

The former world heavyweight champ continued to speak regardless.

“Naoya and Junto are putting on fantastic fights that fans enjoy. They are showcasing the charm of boxing abundantly. I applaud them wholeheartedly. On the other hand, the current heavyweight division has declined in quality. The matches of so-called top fighters in that division are often disappointing.

Anyone who becomes a world champion must have shining offensive skills. But in today’s heavyweight division, there is no one praised for their defensive abilities. In that regard, both Naoya and Junto understand how to neutralize their opponents’ punches. That’s why watching them is so satisfying.”

Watching Nakatani’s knockout scene, “Wow!” Tim exclaimed.

Tim spoke without looking away from the screen.

“Needless to say, Junto should fight at a distance. However, there are situations where he has to engage in close combat by slipping inside. I’d recommend boldly swaying his shoulders left and right alternately while slipping the opponent’s punches. It’s a technique Fraser excelled at, and I’ve emulated it extensively.

In the Cortes fight, Junto took a right hand. I wish he had evaded it by bending both knees. As he continues to grow physically, the day will come when he moves up in weight class again. Opponents will also become bigger and more powerful. That’s why he needs to thoroughly polish his defense. There’s no limit to improvement in technique.”

Tim assured that Nakatani, who has switched to bantam, will be able to show more of his strengths.

“He’ll likely be able to showcase boxing filled with a sense of speed, unlike the last fight where he felt dizzy due to weight loss. I’m excited to see what kind of performance Junto will deliver.”

Winning a third world title belt is never enough.

“In the Russell fight, Santiago effectively applied pressure and closed the distance. His ability to throw five or six punches in succession there is a strength. However, it’s off the mark to draw comparisons between Russell and Junto based solely on being tall southpaws. There’s a world of difference in terms of speed and skill.

Junto’s adept at positioning himself, so Santiago may struggle to land shots. I see Junto’s quick straight punches as crucial in the early stages.”

Nonito Donaire, who fought Naoya Inoue twice, aimed for a comeback at the age of 40 but was defeated by the 13-year-younger Santiago. With two judges scoring 116-112 and one scoring 115-113, Santiago won the bout unanimously, capturing the title. For Donaire, it was his first time in the ring since his second-round KO loss to Naoya Inoue on June 7, 2022.

“Donaire seemed lackluster throughout the fight. Perhaps he hadn’t fully recovered from the damage he sustained in the Inoue fight. There’s also the natural decline that comes with aging, of course. However, in the midst of the exchanges in the third round, he landed a clean left hook that rocked Santiago. It showcased the veteran’s seasoned technique. Taking punches like that can be life-threatening.

The difference was evident in the volume and vigor of punches thrown. Santiago really let his hands go, showing no fear as he pressed forward, which surely left a positive impression on the judges. Still, I don’t think Junto will be phased by this barrage. He’ll maneuver with his footwork. From a distance, he’ll use his straight, and up close, he’ll finish with an uppercut. I predict Junto will secure a knockout victory in the later rounds.”

”I don’t have a desire to conquer multiple weight classes. I want to showcase my best performance in consultation with my body,” said Nakatani.

Tim added.

“Junto has the potential to aim for KO of the Year or Fighter of the Year consecutively. It’s exciting to see how far he’ll go; he’s a talent that makes your heart leap. I’ll also watch with anticipation.”

On the 24th, Junto Nakatani is undoubtedly going to claim his third world title. Next up, perhaps a unification bout in the bantamweight division. As he chases after monsters, he is also building his own era.

Former world heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon coaches men and women of all ages at his son’s gym

Click here to purchase “Fist of Minority,” Soichi Hayashi’s book about Tim Withaspoon’s life.

  • Photography and text by Soichi Hayashi

    Born in 1969. Passed the professional boxing test as a junior lightweight, but suffered a setback due to a left elbow injury. After working as a reporter for a weekly magazine, he became a nonfiction writer, and in 1996 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 "Hohime to Nurture Coaching" (all from Kodansha).

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