Japan’s Great Naoko Fujioka Dreams of Fighting in U.S.
By Yuriko Miyata
A week of vacation in Los Angeles inspired a Japanese female fighter who is one of the world greatest but also very humble.
Four-time world champion Naoko Fujioka flew to the United States for the first time since attending ringside for Toshiaki Nishioka vs Rafael Marquez in Las Vegas in 2011. This time was just a leisure tour for her. She came with no specific plan but she was looking for something inspirational as a boxer always does, especially these days.
“Recently I was a little bit in low spirits since Amanda Serrano became the first woman to win world titles in five different weight classes of four major sanctioning bodies (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO). I admire and respect her a lot, but that accomplishment is what I dreamed about. My team is working hard to have the next fight in my hometown in October for another world title, which will be my fifth one. But I cannot claim to become the first one in history anymore. So now I need something else that excites me to keep fighting.”
It is quite understandable that a fighter who will turn 42 years old this coming August thirsts for extraordinary goals to continue working hard in the sport that still provides insufficient rewards for women. Even though she has won four world titles and a TV program featuring her on air, no big differences are made on her daily life. She believed that a historic achievement nobody else has attained could change her life. But people who she met here in California let her be proud herself and have a new dream.
David Avila was the key person. He came all the way from the Riverside area to see Naoko in the Maywood gym. Naoko was amazed how Avila knows about her accomplishments well, because she thought nobody cared or knew her here. He contacted boxing people to see who was available during her short stay and immediately made appointments with two promoters and two former female world champions. She prepared some business cards to introduce herself but she found no need for them.
“If my name is not familiar to boxing people here, they recognize who I am whenever someone mentions that I beat Mariana Juarez in Mexico two years ago. Maybe I did not really know how Mariana is big deal. People I met here let me realize that a boxer of big challenge deserves praise. And I realized now how big that victory was for me. At that time I took a huge risk to go there and face the female boxing icon because it was my comeback fight from the loss to Susi Kentikian in Germany four months before. If I got successive defeats, I must decide to retire. So, when I got a call from my manager of the offer from team Juarez, I was lost on what to say, maybe I had no words for 10 minutes or so. It was not easy to decide to accept the offer. But now I really know it was worth it.”
A Meeting of Champions
After having a good work out in the Ringside Boxing Gym in Banning CA, together with Kaliesha West, the former WBO bantamweight champion, and Sindy Amador, a former IFBA light flyweight champion, three athletic women chatted over the dinner as if they were long time friends. Kaliesha picked up her phone to watch Youtube video of Naoko vs Mariana and asked the winner many questions about the 10 rounds of non-stop aggression.
Kaliesha West who won her world title on the undercard of Shane Mosley vs Sergio Mora at Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2010. She told Fujioka about her two and half year hiatus and about a possible next fight this August in Africa.
Sindy Amador told Naoko about the friendship between Kaliesha that lead her to professional boxing seven years ago. She has missed boxing for almost three years since her career finished suddenly due to a severe eye injury. Even though Naoko does not speak English very well, their stories reached and fascinated her heart.
“Now I really want to fight in America. Actually I was wondering if the number of belts really matters. When I talked with them I saw boxing business here is not easy for women just like in Japan. But they have passion to do boxing. They remind me that I love a slugfest because I believe that way I can show people my passion. I believe boxing fans also are looking for that kind of heart, rage, or nature. I heard that boxing fans in America are very honest and straight to express how they liked the fights. I want to see if I can entertain those people. I don’t mind if it is a small show or small money, at first. Once I show a very exciting fight, that will bring the bigger chances. What’s more, people get to remember my name and fighting style. That must be the true honor of a boxer.”
Knowing that time is limited as a top boxer, she is sincere to look on what is her goal now. Naoko Fujioka is thrilled to imagine herself chasing the American Dream.