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Former super featherweight champion Uchiyama retires with pride in career accomplishments

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Just like people in general, there is no immortality in sports. One day, every athlete starts declining, and one day he or she must quit.

It is time for Takashi Uchiyama, one of the greatest boxers Japan has ever seen.

The ex-WBA super featherweight champion announced his retirement on Saturday, wrapping up his illustrious professional career.

Uchiyama, who posted a 24-2-1 record, closed his fighting career with back-to-back losses to Panama’s Jezreel Corrales — which ended up being his only professional defeats — in Tokyo last year.

“I began thinking of retiring around the end of April,” Uchiyama, 37, said at a news conference that was held in a TV Tokyo studio on Saturday evening. “The biggest reason was that I didn’t have as much motivation as I previously had and that I was hampered by injuries and I couldn’t dispel my doubt that I could be a better fighter than before. That’s why I decided to retire.”

The hard puncher had surgeries on his right fist in 2011 and left elbow in 2015. He added that he would have needed surgery on the elbow in order to continue fighting.

“It’s been my motto to put in the best effort I could have before I get in the ring,” said Uchiyama, who was promoted to “super champion” status in 2015 after his ninth successful title defense. “And I thought that it wasn’t right for a person that can only do a halfway job to keep doing this.”

Uchiyama said that he “nearly came to the decision” to retire in June, but wasn’t able to abandon the possibility that his motivation would come back while he was watching other boxers’ fights.

“But it didn’t happen,” said Uchiyama, who was born in Nagasaki Prefecture and grew up in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture.

It appeared that Uchiyama had a good chance to break former WBA light flyweight champ Yoko Gushiken’s Japanese record for consecutive world title defenses (13). But Uchiyama was stunned by Corrales, and that ended his streak at 11.

Nevertheless, Uchiyama has no regrets. He said that when he began boxing in high school, there was no way he’d eventually be a world champion, and he certainly didn’t think he would retain his crown as long as he did.

“I feel I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined,” said Uchiyama, who snatched the WBA super featherweight title from Mexico’s Juan Carlos Salgado in January 2010 at age 30.

While Uchiyama seemed relieved to have announced his retirement, Hitoshi Watanabe, president of the Watanabe Gym, was a little emotional to see the biggest contributor to his gym depart from the ring.

“I started boxing myself and opened my gym when I was about 20 years old,” Watanabe said. “I set a goal to eventually have a world champion and Uchiyama realized it. I have the utmost appreciation to him.

“I would say that the 10 years with Uchiyama is one of the most important parts of my life.”

Uchiyama expressed his gratitude to Watanabe, his trainers, supporters and fans.

“I wouldn’t have been who I have been without the fans,” Uchiyama said. “Their support really helped me. It’s regrettable that I wasn’t able to live up to their ‘do it one more time’ request, but I have nothing but my appreciation for them.”

The fans were intrigued by Uchiyama’s gentle character and, more importantly, his superb boxing style, which earned him a memorable nickname, “Knockout Dynamite.”

“I’ve said at press conferences and all that that I wasn’t aware of winning by KO too much,” said Uchiyama, who recorded 20 of his 24 victories by knockout. “But I can say now, I’ve been doing it thinking that it wasn’t fun to win that wasn’t by KO. I’ve practiced trying to send my opponents onto the canvas. I think I could entertain my fans with how I’ve fought a little bit.”

As Uchiyama kept extending his title defense streak, fans had hoped he would be given a fight overseas, which at one point he showed big interest in. But he ended up fighting all 27 of his bouts inside Japan.

Uchiyama didn’t complain about it, however, saying, “I had so many injuries and just didn’t have the right timing for an opportunity. I don’t have regrets on it.”

He said that he has no near-future, post-retirement plans for now, but hinted that he eventually wanted to have his own gym.

Uchiyama added that he wasn’t sure if he’d be a good trainer right away, but encouraged fellow Japanese boxers to compete for a world title.

“Japanese have a chance (to be a world champ) in the middleweight, lightweight divisions,” he said. “When you become a world champion, your life will completely change. I’d like to see (Japan’s) young fighters challenge for world titles.”

Elsewhere, fellow ex-super featherweight champ Takashi Miura has also left the sport.

The 33-year-old announced his retirement in a Twitter post late Friday night.

“After I pondered (the decision), I decided to retire. I don’t have regrets. As I was able to achieve my boyhood dream and get in the ring in America, which I had never imagined I would, I had the best possible boxing career. Thank you,” the Akita Prefecture native, who had a career 31-4-2 record (24 KOs), wrote.

Miura, who lost his WBC super featherweight title to Francisco Vargas in November 2015, attempted to regain the belt against champion Miguel Berchelt at the Forum in Inglewood, California, on July 15, but lost in a unanimous decision.

The southpaw boxer, who was dubbed “Bomber Left” for his powerful signature blow, tweeted after the Berchelt bout that he thinks he took the “first complete loss” in his career.

Miura, a Teiken Gym fighter, challenged Uchiyama for the WBC super featherweight title in 2011, but lost by TKO.

In April 2013, Miura captured the WBC super featherweight belt against champion Gamaliel Diaz and defended it four times.

Uchiyama regarded the Miura fight as one of the most memorable bouts of his career. During the fight, Uchiyama injured his right hand, but managed to finish off his rival mostly with his left.