Boxing

Veteran boxer Katsunari Takayama willing to wait out COVID-19 for return to ring

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff writer

It has been 22 years since Katsunari Takayama first picked up boxing gloves. But the burning passion is still there.

The 36-year-old Takayama retired as a professional boxer in 2017 to focus on competing at the Tokyo Olympics, an ambition that went unrealized after he lost in a Tokai regional qualifier last summer.

Last month he returned to the professional ring, saying he still had work left to do.

Takayama, who was granted a professional license last month, was originally set to begin his comeback on May 10 in Osaka.

That bout has been postponed by the Japan Boxing Commission and Japan Professional Boxing Association due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a development which temporarily threw his newly regained professional status into question.

Two days after that scheduled bout, Takayama would have turned 37 years old, the mandatory fighter retirement age set by both organizations. As a former world champion, he would have automatically been granted an exception to continue to box.

Now, Takayama and his supporters are asking for exception to allow him back in the ring once the global crisis abates.

Speaking from Osaka in a video news conference on Monday, Takayama said that it was nobody’s fault that his bout had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.

The Osaka native, who became the first Japanese boxer to win world titles in all four major organizations — the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO — fighting in the minimumweight division, remains positive, concentrating on what he can do at the moment.

“I’ve just been preparing as best as I can so that I can put on my best performance as a professional fighter whenever the coronavirus situation is settled,” he said.

It appears that his wish will be granted. In a meeting to discuss the situation on Monday, the JBC and JPBA concluded that they would allow Takayama to keep fighting even beyond the age limit.

Upon hearing the decision, Takayama expressed appreciation that he would have a chance to achieve his goal.

Of course, at the moment it is too hard to tell when his bout will be held. But as a veteran with a 31-8 (12 knockouts) record, Takayama is not dwelling too much on the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus. He said that he intends to keep in shape so that he can “compete at any time.”

At the same time, he can’t afford to wait forever. Takayama said that at best, he would only have another few years to genuinely have a shot at getting back on top.

“As a professional boxer, you can’t fight until you’re 40, 50 years old, especially if you’re a fighter of a lighter weight class,” said Takayama, who captured his first world championship in 2005 when he defeated Isaac Bustos for the WBC minimumweight title. “If I achieve what I want to, then I’d be able to say that I’ve done everything as a boxer. So I’ll do the best I can in order to get back to where I want to be in the next couple of years.”

To boxing outsiders, Takayama already appears to have achieved everything he could possibly do by winning the four major belts. But at the end of the day, winning a belt is not the only thing that drives him to work as hard as possible.

“I fell in love with boxing when I first began the sport at 14,” said Takayama, who has already been placed at 10th in the WBA minimumweight rankings but is likely to move up to the light-flyweight division. “To this day, I can still say I love boxing. The love is the motivation for me to keep fighting.”

Takayama, who now belongs to the Neyagawa Ishida Boxing Club, could face one of two current Japanese title holders in the light-flyweight class. Hiroto Kyoguchi is the reigning WBA champion (super champion status), while Kenshiro Teraji, who boxes as Ken Shiro, is the WBC king.

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