By Masatoshi Ueda
The Japanese fight scene is not only for Japanese fighters. If a fighter of any nationality finds a boxing gym to promote him or her and is registered with the Japan Boxing Commission, that fighter can develop a career in Japan.
Since the first time he put on boxing gloves at Hachiouji Nakaya Gym, Charlie Ohta (20-1-1, 14KOs) aka Charles Bellamy, born in New York, is one fighter who made his name in Japan. Ohta won the Japan title and is the current OPBF light middleweight champion. He made his way back to fight in his hometown at Madison Square Garden last march.
American by nationality, but with love for the Japanese boxing industry, “American Samurai” Charlie Ohta talked about his career in Japan and the Japanese boxing Scene.
Boxing Insider: So, how did you end up fighting in Japan?
Charlie Ohta: I was in the military in Yokosuka (Kanagawa prefecture) when I was around 23 years old. At the time I was dating a Japanese lady, who I often came to see in Hachiouji (Tokyo suburb) in the weekends, so I was looking for a place to exercise and stay in shape. I went to a few places around the area, fitness gyms, kick boxing gym and boxing gym. But I liked the atmosphere and the people here, which made me join “Hachiouji Nakaya Boxing Gym”.
That was your first time you boxed?
Yes, that was the first time to do boxing. At first I was training and hitting the bags, and I was getting good at it pretty fast, so the gym asked me if I wanted to participate in an all Japan amateur tournament, which I did very well. I remember at that time, I was finishing my Navy career, and thinking of what to do after. I would of most likely gone back to the States to go to college if I didn’t participated in the tournament, but I wanted to stay in Japan and see how well I did. So I continued taking college classes out here in Japan and got a job as a English teacher/tutor. It was interesting to start a new chapter in my life new job, new place to live, and new experiences.
You went on to fight Professionally, winning the Japan Title and the OPBF (Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation) Title. What do those titles mean to you as an American?
I appreciate the fans that do support me and want to see me fight, and I appreciate the titles too. They are very important and they represent the best fighter in Japan and in the Pacific region. They are a good thing to have. I love and appreciate the titles.
You had your first home land fight at Madison Square Garden, NY last march with Gundrick King on the undercard of Sergio Martinez vs. Matthew Macklin. What was it like fighting in the States?
I was very excited and looking forward to it. It took a while for the fight to be decided, but after it was set I was like, let’s go! But it felt a little strange since I been fighting in Japan for a long time, and I fight in the name “Charlie Ohta” so lot of the people there thought I was Japanese and approached me asking if I was half Japanese. One thing I was happy about was that I had a chance to fight in front of my friends in the States who came out to support me. They knew I was boxing in Japan, but couldn’t follow my details in the States.
Did you feel more comfortable fighting in Japan?
Fighting in the States was easier for me because I can understand what everybody is saying, but it doesn’t matter where I fight, England, Canada, Mexico or where ever, I will go out there and fight. It’s not going to change me or get nervous because of the experience I have starting my career in Japan. If I was to move up in rankings, I will most likely have to fight outside of Japan, but I would like to have my fights here for the fans who have supported me throughout the years.
What do you think is the difference between the Japanese and US boxing scenes?
I would say that the biggest difference is in Japan, JBC (Japanese Boxing Commission) is very good. If not the best, it’s definitely the top 3 boxing commissions in the world. Boxing is a lot more organized than any other country. They have tournaments for lower level fighters to higher ranked fighters. Where any fighter can step up and advance till eventually [they] get a title shot. That is a great system where everyone has a chance.
So in Japan, whoever has the Japanese title are good fighters because the JBC make the fighter fight the best in the weight class, As for in the States, the promoters are everything. [It is] depending who your promoter is to get any kind of title shot even if you’re winning and doing good. More organization as a whole is what they need in the States. Another point what is better about Japan is that they have one set of rules. Everyone must use the same rules when fighting. Where as in America it seems like the more powerful promoter can make or shift the rules to favor their fighter.
Do you think Japanese fighters should be paid more attention in the US and around the world?
Yes, they definitely should. Until I came to Japan, I’ve seen or heard a little about Yoko Gushiken and Joichiro Tatsuyoshi. But I was surprised to see that there are a lot of good fighters here, guys like Hozumi Hasegawa. Boxing is a worldwide sport so, If they get more exposure around the world, participate in fights outside of Japan, it would be better for them and boxing will be much more popular in Japan.
There are currently 8 Japanese world champions. Who do you think will succeed if they fought in the States?
Right now, the first name that popped in my head is WBA super featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama, no doubt about it. He’s gonna kill somebody out there. If he goes and fights in America, it’s going to be a good and exciting fight, he’s going to get a lot more fans in the States because of the way he fights. He’s a good entertaining fighter. There are a lot of good fighters around his weight class, but he can succeed in the States like Manny Pacquiao.
There are a lot of good fighters here in Japan, people just don’t know about it. Maybe little by little, more other Japanese fighters will be fighting abroad so, look out for them. As for me to move to the next level, I will have to leave Japan, but I’m coming back to my Japanese fans with the belt.