Q&A: Katsunari Takayama


Katsunari Takayama (left) exchanges punches with Shin Ono during his IBF 105-pound title defense at the Bodymaker Colosseum on May 7 in Osaka, Japan. Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

IBF strawweight titleholder Katsunari Takayama enters the lion’s den on Saturday when he takes on Francisco Rodriguez Jr. in the WBO beltholder’s native Monterrey, Mexico, but fighting on the road is nothing new to the Japanese veteran who has fought in South Africa, the Philippines and other parts of Mexico.

He had no hesitation about dusting off his passport for a 105-pound title unification bout.

“I feel really comfortable with fighting on the enemy field,” Takayama told RingTV.com through his interpreter Maio Ryohei when asked about returning to Mexico.

The 31-year old Takayama (27-6, 10 knockouts) is keen to test himself against his Mexican rival who’s 10 years his junior.

“He is a powerful puncher and seems to have lots of stamina,” he said “I have watched video of him, and still I couldn’t find his weakness.”

Rodriguez-Takayama will be only the fifth strawweight title unification bout in history following Ricardo Lopez vs. Alex Sanchez and then two meetings with Rosendo Alvarez, and most recently the Kazuta Ioka-Akira Yaegashi fight.

Anson Wainwright – What are your thoughts on this unification fight?

Katsunari Takayama – It thrills me a lot to fight this unification match of the IBF and WBO titles because for a long time I’ve wanted the opportunity of becoming undisputed champion of four organizations.

AW – What do you think of Rodriguez as a fighter? 

KT – He is a powerful puncher and seems to have lots of stamina. I have watched video of him, and still I couldn’t find his weakness.

AW – It is very rare for a unification to take place at strawweight. Wow did this fight come about?

KT – The main reason why this fight was happened is simply because I am really eager to have four colors (of title) belts. My manager Hiroaki Nakade organized and negotiated this fight.

Moreover my idol is Orlando Canizales, and he had IBF bantamweight world championship.

In the lower weights, strawweight, junior flyweight and even at heavyweight, no one has never ever ruled the four organizations’ titles at once. Yes, Mr. (Bernard) Hopkins did (at middleweight). I mean at the heaviest class, at heavyweight, still, no one has achieved. So it is worth for me, Takayama, to challenge and achieve it.

AW – The fight takes place in Monterrey, Mexico. You beat Mario Rodriguez in Mexico for the title. How much confidence does that give you for this fight?

KT – That made me love to fight in foreign country and fight away. I feel really comfortable with fighting on the enemy field.

AW – In your most recent title defense you outpointed Shin Ono. Can you tell us about that fight?

That was the great fight. Ono studied and investigated me so deeply and widely from various perspectives. Ono especially interfered with me circling to the left (Ono is southpaw) so he landed some straight lefts. However, my stamina overwhelmed him finally.

AW – What was your youth like growing up in Osaka, Japan? How did you become interested in boxing?

KT – By 15 years old, I was fat like a sumo wrestler. My only fun was eating junk food (like chips and popcorn). My friend asked me to join the boxing gym. My friend quit after two weeks. I grew up like a normal child in Osaka, with no problems.

AW – Previously you were something of a pioneer for boxing in Japan. You handed in your JBC license and decided to head overseas and fight Nkosinathi Joyi for the IBF title. Though you lost to him you have since captured that title. Tell us about this? [Editor’s note: for many decades, the Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) only recognized the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the World Boxing Association (WBA) sanctioning organizations.]

KT – I wanted to be a strongest strawweight, no matter what the cost. To fight in the enemy field brought me good and bad events. However, all these experiences make me strong and colorful fighter.

AW – You have fought many of the best strawweights of the past decade Eagle Kyowa, Yukaka Niida, Roman Gonzalez, and Joyi. What would you say of fighting those guys? Who was the best? 

KT – This is the one of the hardest questions to answer, to rank up them. I know this is the “nicey-nice” (sit on the fence) answer, but all of them made me who I am.

AW – Tell us about your life away from boxing? 

KT – Now I go to high school (even though I’m 31 years old). One of my plans after graduating high school is to go on to university and then to be a teacher. If possible, I’d like to specialize in physical education and be a PE teacher in high school. I would like it if I could pass down my experience which I have learned from many countries and people.

AW – In closing do you have a message for Rodriguez Jr. ahead of your fight?

KT – It’s really my honor and pleasure to face you. I look forward to making a legend together.