yshirai.jpgYoshio Shirai, the first Japanese boxer to be crowned a world champion, died on Dec. 26 from pneumonia. He was 80.
Shirai was 19 years old when he made his professional boxing debut at the Kendokai boxing gym in 1943. He won his first eight matches before he was drafted to serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy’s air group.
After World War II ended, Shirai returned to competitive boxing. In 1949, he became the Flyweight Champion of Japan when he knocked out Yoichiro Hanada, who had held the title for 15 years. Later that year, Shirai defeated Hiroshi Horiguchi, and was named Japan’s Bantamweight Champion.
At the 1952 World Flyweight Championship in Tokyo, Shirai fought American boxer Dado Marino, and won on a decision, making him the first Japanese to become the Flyweight Champion of the World. He successfully defended the title four times before losing by a huge margin to Pascual Perez, an unbeaten ex-Olympic gold medalist from Argentina.
Shirai retired from the sport in 1955 when Perez knocked him out during a rematch. His career record was 46-8-4, with 18 KOs. In 2002, he received The World Boxing Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award.