Jiro Watanabe, 1979-1986, 26-2 (17 knockouts)
Titles: WBA super flyweight (April 8, 1982-July 5, 1984), WBC super flyweight (July 5, 1984-March 30, 1986)
First Full Year of IBHOF Eligibility: 1992
The classy Japanese southpaw, along with Hall of Famer Khaosai Galaxy, helped legitimize the 115-pound weight class with a long and productive title reign. Interestingly, Galaxy received his chance to win a belt because Watanabe chose to unify with WBC counterpart Payao Poontarat over a match against the Thai mandatory challenger. The closest boxing fans ever came to determining who was better was a 1994 three-round exhibition in Japan when both were retired. Still, Watanabe’s record stacks up well when compared to his fellow titlists and he did so with superior technique and understated power.
Points in his favor: After failing in his first bid at world honors against WBC titlist Chul Ho Kim (L 15 by one, one and two points), Watanabe won the WBA belt one year later with a commanding decision over Rafael Pedroza, the cousin of longtime WBA featherweight king Eusebio.
During his uninterrupted 10-defense reign that spanned two sanctioning bodies, Watanabe defeated veteran ex-flyweight champ Shoji Oguma (KO 12), fellow champ Poontarat (W 12, KO 11), future champs Soon-Chun Kwon (TW 11) and Gustavo Ballas (KO 9) as well as respected challengers like the 33-2-1 Luis Ibanez (KO 8) and the 16-0-1 Celso Chavez (KO 15). Any long reign has its lesser lights but Watanabe beat them as well (W 15 Roberto Ramirez, W 12 Julio Soto Solano, KO 7 Kazuo Katsuma and KO 5 Suk-Hwan Yun).
What Hurts His Cause: First, like most notable fighters from Asia, his fights were rarely shown on U.S.-accessible TV stations, which hurt his awareness among American opinion-makers. Second, his loss to Gilberto Roman in his final fight was fairly comprehensive. Finally, Watanabe and Galaxy never met to determine divisional supremacy when there was ample opportunity to do so. Still, if Galaxy’s accomplishments were too difficult to ignore, why not grant Watanabe his crack?