By David Finger
It’s been a long, illustrious career for Osaka Japan’s Katsunari Takayama (31-8, 12 KOs). But on Sunday night, right before the WBO mini-flyweight title fight between Ryuya Yamanaka and Tatusya Fukuhara, Takayama finalized a decision he announced back in April. In a solemn Japanese ceremony punctuated by a ten count, Takayama’s career officially came to a close in the sport of boxing.
Strike that… in the sport of professional boxing.
Because if the five-time world champion who is a strong candidate for the Boxing Hall of Fame has his way, he may be adding one more accomplishment to his resume: an Olympic gold medal.
The former world champion now has a new goal, one that has never been accomplished by any fighter in history: to be the first former world champion to win an Olympic gold medal. Sure, there have been future world champions who have captured Olympic glory on their way to a professional career, but never a professional who walked away from the sport as a world champion in order to step into the amateur circuit again and try and win a medal in the Olympics.
But first, he needs to qualify for the Olympics, and that is proving to be the biggest obstacle to a gold medal. Because as of now, the Japan Amateur Boxing Association is refusing to let the former WBO mini-flyweight champion compete as an amateur.
But Takayama is no stranger to setbacks in the sport of boxing. But Takayama has shown a history in boxing of coming back even stronger from every setback. He was a fighter who never let a loss hold him back.
The question is, does he have one more comeback left in him?
Takayama took some time to speak to Fightnews about his career and his plans for the future.
Thank you for taking time to speak with us champ. Right off the bat, you earned a reputation in the sport as a fighter who always bounced back from a loss. In a division where fighters careers tended to be relatively short, you remained a contender for nearly fifteen years since turning pro in 2000. Even when you lost a title fight you always ended up coming back even stronger, with another world title belt around your waist within the year. How were you able to overcome those losses so effectively?
When I lost I didn’t just get irritated or upset with myself. I used it as research; I would look at the fight and would reflect on it. Why did I lose? Where was I deficient? At what points? And how can I improve on those points? A lot of the boxers, when they reach the highest point, world champion, and then lose…they get depressed and kind of sink down. But every time I lost I didn’t do that. I would use that as motivation. I would study what was insufficient, what led to me losing, and use that as motivation.
Was there any rematch that you didn’t get that you always wanted to get?
Chocolitio. Roman Gonzalez. I always wanted a rematch with Roman Gonzalez.
As a former champion who is now retired, what are you doing now?
I’m a first year student at university studying modern business in Nagoya. I am going to university in order to be a teacher. I want to be a high school teacher.
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I had never completed high school due to dedicating myself to being a pro boxer. So I went back to high school when I was 30-years old. When I went back to high school, of course, I was older than all of the other students. But all of the students and teachers, they really supported me in my boxing and in my studies. So it really was very valuable to me.
You will have a retirement ceremony after the fight? How does it feel to be so honored?
At my retirement ceremony, I announce and determine to end my career as a professional boxer. However…I will remain a boxer. I will continue on in my boxing life. I have two goals, the first goal as I mentioned is to become a high school teacher. My second goal is, three years from now, to represent Japan in the Tokyo Olympics as an amateur boxer.
You want to fight in the Olympics. What has been the response of the Japanese Amateur Boxing Association?
From last year, at the Rio Olympics, two world champions participated. So even though those two world champions participated in the Olympics for their countries, as of right now the Japanese Amateur Boxing Association has decided they will not allow former professionals to participate in the amateurs as a fundamental rule.
So even though they decided a year ago I have not given up. I still have my dream and I will do whatever I can to realize it. I became a world champion, I retired from professional boxing, and then I want to win the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Then my entire boxing career will culminate in that and then I will continue as a teacher. The driving force is to help the teach children and express what I have learned from all of these experiences.
Is there an appeal process for this decision and what is the status of this appeal?
That’s what I’m doing right now, is trying to engage with the media and tell my story. To describe my goal and my dream: a former world champion who wants to win the gold medal. There have been many Olympic medalists throughout the world from many countries who have gone on to become a world champion as professional boxers. But there have been no world champions in professional boxing who have gone one to win the gold medal in the Olympics. That is my challenge.