Shiro vs Lopez: Rematch In Tokyo

Inside the gym his father owns in Kyoto, Japan, Ken Shiro prepares for his upcoming defense of his WBC light flyweight championship, a rematch against Ganigan Lopez. It will have been almost a year to the day from their first encounter when they meet again on Friday in Tokyo. In that first match two scorecards gave the win to Shiro by just two points while the third saw it a draw, highlighting the competitiveness of the bout. The razor close decision has conjured a desire in the young fighter to make a statement the second time around.

“I want to defeat my opponent in a more telling way,” is how Shiro describes his perspective heading into the return.

Young Shiro and his charming smile.

Shiro’s gritty performance last year added a new dimension to his public profile in Japan. Before that his fans remembered him mostly from his boyish and infectious smile, a personality which seemed almost too sincere and callow for a sport of such violence. But if the victory earned their approval and if the smile charmed them, the name flashing on the screen “拳四朗” inspired chuckles as its first character, “拳”, translates to “fist.” (Try punching that into Google translate).

But there’s more. The boxer known to the rest of the world as Ken Shiro in fact uses a quasi-alias in place of his birth name, Kenshiro Teraji. The name “Kenshiro” is recognizable because it was made famous by an 80’s martial arts anime character. However, young Kenshiro was not permitted to register with a single name as he wished, so instead he separated it into two. While it may have seemed like a joke at the time, the name “Kenshiro” symbolizes fighting greatness. Thus, the figurative bells rang along with the literal ones at the end of his title-winning effort last year and Japanese sports had a new hero entering the mainstream. Since then, Shiro has defended his title twice and you can definitely say he’s lived up to the name his father gave him.

Ganigan and Shiro rumble.

Not surprisingly, the elder Teraji was also a fighter. Hishashi Teraji literally watches over his son in the gym as, at 6’4″, he stands a full foot taller compared to his 26-year-old offspring. Hisashi’s height and light heavyweight frame was, and to some extent still is, rather unique in Japan, especially for pugilists. He had difficulties finding sparring partners, let alone opponents willing to travel to Japan to compete against him. He overwhelmed the vast majority of pugilists who did dare to face him, his final record a very respectable 20-1-3, and during his career both the OPBF light heavyweight and Japanese middleweight title belts were his.

Years later his son would win his first championship on the undercard of an event featuring gold medalist Ryota Murata, the first Japanese middleweight to succeed on the global stage. Whether or not Hisashi sees the irony of the situation isn’t apparent as naturally he and his son are focused only on the next challenge and the rematch with Ganigan Lopez. They know Lopez will be looking to correct what he regards as an injustice. The former champion even went so far as to file an official complaint with the WBC over the decision, which some viewed as unjust.

Thus the rematch was granted and Ganigan is now ready to return to Japan and take the WBC belt back with him to Mexico. “Once we won the world title in Japan and today I have the confidence to repeat the feat and, in the process, get revenge against Shiro,” states Ganigan, referring to his victory against Yu Kimura in 2016 when he first won the green belt.

Originally slated for April 15th on the Ryota Murta undercard, Fuji TV rescheduled Kenshiro vs Lopez for Friday’s Naoya Inoue card instead. Had it gone forward as planned the fight would have been on tape delay as another Japanese champion, Daigo Higa, had been given chief support to the main event. The rescheduling not only ensured the match would be aired live but also that there would be two consecutive championship doubleheaders in as many months for Japanese boxing fans.

Ganigan Lopez

This will be the second consecutive Inoue undercard for Kenshiro as the event highlights two of Japan’s most captivating young boxing stars. Interestingly, the pair actually faced each other in high school with the junior Inoue scoring a victory over the senior Kenshiro.

Should Kenshiro get by the pesky Lopez, there was hope of a domestic unification fight at the end of the year with fellow world champion Ryoichi Taguchi. At an award ceremony earlier this year where Taguchi won Fight of the Year and Kenshiro won Rookie of the Year respectively, both expressed a desire to eventually meet down the line. But South Africa’s Hekkie Budler rendered such a prospect unlikely, at least for now, as three days ago he upset Taguchi by split decision. In any case, Kenshiro’s focus is now set on the formidable challenge presented by Ganigan Lopez. Who knows, instead of Shiro vs Taguchi, perhaps Shiro vs Lopez Part 3 could be next.               — Nick Skok 

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