By Steve Kim Updated on February 22, 2024

Japanese Born, American Crafted

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In the early morning hours on Saturday, Junto Nakatani will attempt to win a major world title in his third weight division as he clashes with Alexander Santiago for the WBC bantamweight belt in Japan. Nakatani is part of a gifted generation of Japanese fighters which is lead by Naoya Inoue. But while the lanky southpaw is a Japanese product, he's had American seasoning.

Like his other camps, he began preparation for this battle in the Los Angeles-area under the guidance of the respected Rudy Hernandez. 

On this early January morning, they were at the Knockouts Boxing in South Gate, where he got in eight rounds of sparring with three different boxers, and did some work on the bags. Nakatani, who has gone to various gyms in this region, has been coming to the States since he was a teenager.

 Picture for Japanese Born, American CraftedESPN/Top Rank

Hernandez, who trained his brother, Genaro, to two world titles, is a staple on the boxing Japanese scene given his long-time association with Teiken Boxing. Several years ago, he lead Masayuki 'the Judge' Ito to a world title. He has no problems telling you that fighters from this country are a great contrast to those who hail from America.

"Of course they're different," said Hernandez, on this brisk morning after their days work had been completed. "They have a different structure. I mean, c'mon, look at America, we're only a powerhouse military-wise. But other than that, the structure and how people are no longer held accountable, and too many feelings get hurt when you say something that's out of line in todays world."

In his view, the Japanese boxers he's had are geneally more coachable and steadfast in their discipline. And yes, it's very much about culture. 

Picture for Japanese Born, American CraftedMikey Williams/Top Rank

"Of course, they have a different upbringing. They're accountable, they're held at a higher standard as little kids. If you go to Japan, you'll see these kids between the ages of four and eight, walking in a group all by themselves going to school. Why? Because the culture is different. It wasn't too long that Japan suffered a tsunami, and the world wanted to help -- and Japan declined.

"Why? Because Japan takes care of Japan. That's awesome.''

As you see the angular Nakatani(26-0, 19 KOs), what is noticeable in recent years is that he's become more comfortable at working inside, and adept at countering off the ropes. This comes from facing a variety of styles throughout the years in Southland gyms. 

Nakatani isn't his first world champion, but Hernandez (who also works as a cutman for the UFC) has no problems telling anyone who will listen that he's the best boxer he's ever worked with, yes, even better than 'Chicanito'. "I think he's the best fighter I've ever worked with. The reason I consider him better than my brother is because this guy's willing to try things, and he's executed everything that we've brought to the table," said Hernandez. 

Picture for Japanese Born, American CraftedSteve Kim Photos

And what he practices, inevitably will carry over into the actual fights. As you see Nakatani in the gym with Hernandez, the one thing you'll never see is mitt work. It's something this trainer simply doesn't believe in.

"The mitt work and how they do it, I mean, it looks awesome," said Hernandez, derisively. "But when that bell rings, I've yet to see that."

To this decidedly old-school traditionalist, what is done on the pads, oftentimes amounts to false advertising.

Hernandez states, "When I saw the first two rounds of the Mayweater-Pacquiao fight, I really wanted to sue them. I swear to God. I said, 'I want to sue them,' because they lead us to believe that's what they were going to do. When the ball rang, none of them executed what they did on those mitts."

Picture for Japanese Born, American CraftedSteve Kim Photos

Overall, he's unimpressed by what he sees in todays sport. What Hernandez observes is a generation of fights programmed to be better in the gym than in the actual fights.

"Look, here's what it comes down to, it's the coach. We don't have coaches in boxing any more," he said, bluntly. "Maybe a couple, a few at most world-wide. Trainers are everywhere, but there are very few coaches, and I can't name them."

But in Nakatani he has a horse he can ride. He now entering his physical prime at age 26. Last year in winning the vacant WBO 115-pound title by scoring a 12th round KO of Andrew Moloney, which earned 'Knockout of the Year' honors from Ring Magazine.

Junto Nakatani With The KO OF THE YEAR Over Moloney to Win Belt | FIGHT HIGHLIGHTS


He capped off the year with a 12-round decision over Argi Cortes in September. It was that week where the decision was made that this would be his last bout in this weight class.

Picture for Japanese Born, American CraftedMikey Williams/Top Rank

"Before the weigh-in we made the choice that this would be his last fight at 115," said Hernandez, who believes his run at bantamweight may not be long, given his 5'8 frame.

"I think it's in his best interest to go move up in weight," Hernandez told "I think we're going to see the best Junto at 122 or 126."



This week on 'the 3 Knockdown Rule', rising featherweight, Bruce Carrington, joined Mario Lopez and I:


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Also on this card that will be broadcast on ESPN+, Takuma Inoue faces Jerwin Ancajas for the WBA bantamweight title, and WBO jr. bantamweight titlist, Kosei Tanaka defends his belt...Later on that night on DAZN from Orlando, Florida, Edgar Berlanga faces Padraig McCrory the main event... Also on that bill is the highly touted, Andy Cruz....So are we on the verge of Canelo against Jaime Munguia on May 4?....I can be reached at






About Author
Japanese Born, American Crafted
  • Hosted 'the Main Event' on KIEV 870, and then later XTRA AM1150 ( a three hour show devoted to boxing) from 1996 to 1999.
  • Joined one of the first boxing websites, 'House of Boxing' in 1999, and then later became one of the founders of Maxboxing, that started in 2001, till his departure in 2014.
  • From 2014 to 2018, he was the lead columnist for
  • Was a boxing reporter for from 2018 to 2020.
  • He has written for Ring Magazine, International Boxing Digest and Boxing News.
  • Is the co-host of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez, which has become of the most popular boxing podcasts the past several years.
  • Steve has also served as an announcer and analyst for RingTV, Thompson Boxing, 360 Promotions and CBS Sports Network.